Benny Gantz and the rest of us

Yitzhak Rabin was able to galvanize popular support for the Oslo Agreements, on the left, center, and also to the right of center. He represented extreme security-driven harshness: witness his infamous order to “break the arms and legs” of participants in the demonstrations against the occupation, an order that was carried out with wild abandon by soldiers. On the other hand, he is the man who returned Fatah leaders from Tunis as part of his Oslo initiative, and who reluctantly reached out to accept Yasser Arafat’s handshake on the lawn of the White House. The fearless 27-year army man, hero of the Six Day War, is also the man who joked with Arafat and who awkwardly and sweetly sang the Song of Peace with us at the November 4 demonstration, minutes before he was killed.

At this moment, Israel needs a leader who can bring together a similar integration of toughness and peace-seeking, who can enable Israel’s extending of generosity, from a position of strength. Perhaps Benny Gantz can bring us this rare combination. Perhaps the man who is responsible for over 2,000 Palestinian deaths and the devastation of Gaza during the 2014 war, perhaps this soldier has what it takes to lead us out of the current morass toward peace.

Of late, Gantz is a most talked-about Israeli political figure. He has only begun his flirtation with politics, and already the pollsters predict that he will take 12 seats. No one seems to know where he is heading. Is he Left? Right? Maybe Gantz offers an opportunity to get rid of these useless and divisive labels. I can already hear my leftist friends….”What, now you’re afraid to call yourself Left?” No, I’m not worried about my left credentials. As June Carter said, “I’m just trying to matter.”

But damn, what should guide us in Israel, now? As in a late Woody Allen title, these days I’d say… “Whatever works.” I don’t care what label we give people and ideas, what we want is some action here. To make sure we have things turn out in a way that’ll make us proud and grateful when we tell our grandkids about this time. And to turn to those of us who have grimly given up on mattering, and to say, “Hey friend, you want a better future for your kids no less than I. Let’s have it turn out well for everyone. Because that’s where our security lies.”

Perhaps it’s time to shake up our thinking a bit, as we approach looming elections.  I’d like to tug Gantz’s sleeve and see if I could get him to pay attention to the opportunity at hand. I ran into Benny Gantz on two and a half occasions. The first time, it wasn’t me, but my partner, Avi Shahaf. As part of our Human Dignity initiative, Avi represented us in the IDF committee that Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz created to examine ways of advancing the value of dignity in the army. Gantz, brigadier general by then, (around 1999) was in charge of the committee. Avi tells of a Benny Gantz who took his mandate seriously. “He exuded quiet, with a strong presence. He was a great listener, addressed everyone by name.” When he was forced to leave the committee, Gantz parted from Avi and the others with poise and dignity. Some urgent military appointment drew him away and the committee collapsed. Don’t you wonder what could we do here, if we didn’t have to run off to handle security, forever? This country seems to need crises, so as not to confront the far more awesome challenges of living in peace and security.  Fighting has always been easier than working things out.

Then, last year, the premiere of “Ben Gurion Epilogue,” at the Jerusalem Cinemateque. I sat several rows behind Gantz, who was blocking the woman behind him with his bulk. The film documents Ben Gurion, late in life, and here we see a man, with ethical concerns, contradictions, a real man who grappled with leadership.  At the film’s close, I glanced around at the crowd, and the longing for leadership in the hall was palpable. Way beyond controversy, we had all spent an hour in the presence of principled, deliberate leadership. We knew it, and we knew that others knew it. And that the present Israeli political reality is devoid of such qualities. Gantz’s face was drawn, more than usual, as he rose from his seat.

The last time with Gantz was my favorite. Frumit treated me and Aviv to seats for a Yoni Rechter concert, along with the Philharmonic. Very exciting. And just down my row was Benny. I considered approaching him but figured that if I were famous, I’d like to be able to go to a concert without someone forcing me into my role.

What we shared, that evening, Gantz and I and the rest of the audience, was the joy of the Israeli musical experience that Yoni Rechter creates. For each of us in that hall, it was clear that Rechter brings to music the values we treasure….harmony, lilting harmony and rhythms. Beautifully articulated songs, Eli Moher’s songs, so full of the Israel we all love and miss. A clean, solid statement of decency, somehow, that radiates from Rechter. And gentle wry Israeli humor. I was just down the row, as Yoni’s music washed over Benny. Perhaps he dreams as we do, of less noise, as Yoni sings. Perhaps he dreams, as do we, of peace.

Warren Bennis wrote a book about leadership called, “Inventing Myself.” I hope Benny Gantz is busy, right now, figuring out how he will invent himself as a political man.  My guess is that a lot of people might be happy to see him step forward.

I don’t know, I have a good feeling about the guy.

About the Author
Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project. Born and raised in New York/New Jersey, he holds a BA from Berkeley, and an MA in organizational psychology. He made aliyah in 1973, and was a member of Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi for 15 years, and has been living in Jerusalem since '88. He has three kids, and three grandchildren.